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Volume V ] December, 1899 [Number
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SOME CURIOUS COLONIAL REMEDIES 1
THE weapon-ointment derived from the Rosicrucians was com-
pounded of many absurdities ; there was pulverized blood-
stone, a cure by likes, and there was also moss taken from the skull
of a dead man unburied, and other ghastly ingredients. 2 This
precious unguent was applied not to the wound but to the weapon
or implement which had produced it. The weapon was then care-
fully bandaged to protect it from the air. It was the wound, how-
ever, which was healed ; the cures are well attested, as impossible
cures usually are. Experiment proved that " a more homely and
familiar ointment " would serve the turn just as well, and, moreover,
in that day of emblemism the ointment proved quite as efficacious
when applied to an image of the offending weapon. To the Rosi-
crucians was attributed also a similar cure which came into great
notoriety in England in the middle of the seventeenth century. 3
This was the widely famous sympathetic powder, made of vitriol
with much ceremonial precision. The powder stopped hemorrhages
either from disease or wounds. It was applied to the blood after it
1 From the unpublished volume entitled Transit of Civilization.
1 It must have been unfortunate to have a prescription of such value in controversy,
but the authorities were not agreed as to its ingredients. Moss from the skull of a dead
man, ae'i dereticta, was however a permanent element. Bacon gives some account of
one prescription in his Natural History, section 998. But John Baptist Porta has the
prescription given by Paracelsus to the Emperor Maximilian and received through a
courtier by Porta. I give it in English : Two ounces of skull moss as above ; of human
flesh, the same ; of mummy (a liquor reported to be distilled from dead bodies) and of
human blood, each half an ounce ; of linseed oil, turpentine and Armenian bole, each
one ounce ; pound all together in a mortar. Porta's Magia Naturalis, liber VIII, caput
xii. According to Porta the weapon was left lying in the ointment. In the text I have
followed a different account in Bacon's Natural History. In the selection of ingredients
for this preparation the mystical doctrine of curing by similitude is manifest.
'Sprengel, Geschichte der Arzneikundt, IV. 343.
vol. v. — 14 ( 199 )
200 E. Eggleston
had issued from the wound or to the blood-stained garment. Win-
throp of Connecticut, a fellow of the Royal Society and the great
medical authority of New England, imported the latest books l on
the subject of this powder, which may well have come into use in a
country where surgical cases were not infrequent. Before Win-
throp's time and after, learned German writers on physic had at-
tempted to give a scientific basis to the weapon-ointment and powder
of sympathy by attributing their operation to magnetism, 2, 3 a term
that has covered more ignorance than any other ever invented.
The philosopher Kenelm Digby, a contemporary of Winthrop, made
himself the protagonist of the powder in a treatise on the subject.
Lord Bacon was in some doubt about«the weapon -ointment, but he
rather inclined to believe in its cures because a distinguished lady
had similarly relieved him of warts by rubbing them with a rind of
pork which was then hung up, fat side to the sun, to waste vicariously
away, carrying his warts into non-existence with it. Roberti, the
Jesuit, believed that such cures took place but ascribed them to the
devil. All these cures that were wrought without " contaction,"
including the home-made sorcery of curing warts, Bishop Hall ac-
counted damnable witchcraft. 4 Of such necromancy the bacon-
rind cure has alone survived to modern times. The rag-bag of
folk-medicine is filled with the cast-off clothes of science.
The seventeenth century lay in the penumbra of the Middle
Ages and the long-sought potable gold of the alchemists was yet in
request f it even enjoyed a revival. 6 Almost everything precious and
1 E. g. , De Pulvere Sympathetica, 1650.
2 Sprengel as above, IV. 345, 346.
3 " The operation of this ointment," says the author of a famous pharmacopoeia in
1641, "is by the identity or sameness of the Balsamick spirit which is the same in a Man
and in his Blood ; for there is no difference but this, in a man the spirit actually lives,
but in the blood it is coagulated." Schroder quoted by Salmon, English Physician,
VII. 65. See also Sir Kenelm Digby's Sympathetic Powder, generally, and a theory of
the action of this powder or "zaphyrian salt" in Howell's Familiar Letters, Jacob's
edition, 645. An account of the cure of Howell by this remedy is in Supplement II.,
67 1, 674. The sympathetic, powder was used for all hemorrhages and even for other dis-
eases, according to Sprengel. Compare Sir K. Digby on the cure of swelled feet in
oxen, Discourse on Sympathetic Pow/er, 129-132. In the time of their greatest vogue
these cures were probxbly never sanctioned by the strict Galenists. The subject was dis-
cussed before the Royal Society in its infancy in a paper entitled " Relations of Sympa-
thetic Cures and Trials." Sprat, 199.
4 Hall's Cases of Conscience, 232.
5 Vn Unglish manuscript in my possession in the hand -writing of the seventeenth
century gives mmy directions for alchemical processes to attain the "quintessence" so
much sought. Some of these had to be conducted in the earth. Under the title, " The.
Essence whereby to dissolve Gold," this occurs: "To the Essence of wine twice
circulated (as is elsewhere taught 1 add Gold and Sett it in digestion in Sand with a
Lamp For 3 m raths and yu shall find the Gold dissolved but not irreducibly, never the
lesse a quarter of a Spoonfull given at a time to a dying man, tho he be insensible it will
restore him hilf an hrmr to perfect sence, as ever he was in his life."
6 Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, Sec. I, 3.
Some Curious Colonial Remedies 201
rare was accounted of medical virtue, 1 and it was inferred that gold
as the most precious metal would be the most valuable remedy, 2 if
it could be taken in liquid form. The known usefulness of mercu-
rial remedies was attributed to the fact that mercury was the densest
of liquids. Gold was the densest metal then known, and it was
easily concluded by the process of using fancy to give fluidity to
logic, that if it could be reduced to drinkable consistency it would be
the most valuable of medicaments. There was a yet more con-
vincing way of proving its medical value by the process of presump-
tion, so much used by hermetic philosophers. The sun and gold
were related in the mystical thought of the time ; 3 the sun as chief
luminary was the "lord in the property" of gold. "There is not
found among things above or things beneath," says Glauber, "a
greater harmony and friendship than that between the Sun, Gold,
Man and Wine." 4 The easy logic of the time found in this tran-
scendental fancy a therefore potent enough to make gold a universal
1 Queen Elizabeth's ambassador to the French court in 1596 was attended in his ill-
ness by Lorrayne, a physician of the famous faculty of Montpellier, and another. " They
gave him confectio Alcanna; composed of musk, amber, gold, pearl and unicorn's horn,"
ingredients whose virtues seem to have been deduced from their rarity and costliness.
The c 'nfe-tio alkernns, an Arabic remedy, varied in its ingredients. The amber was
ambergrease. See formula in the Amsterdam Pkarmacopoeaol 1636, page 61, and that
in the London Dispensatory, as quoted and discussed in Culpepper's Physician's Library,
1675. The Arabic form of the confection appears to have been less complicated. In the
pharmaceutical work of Mesue the younger — " John, the son of Mesue, the son of Mech,
the son of Hely, son of Abdella, king of Damascus ' ' — the ingredients in this confection!
alkermes are fewer and there are no pearls or ambergrease. The costly elements are
"good gold," "good musk" and lapis lazuli. My copy of this work is called Mesue
Vulgare, perhaps because it is in Italian. It bears date Venice, 1493, ancl must nave
been one of the earliest printed medical works. See K. Sprengel, II. 361-364, on
" Mesue der jiingere."
2 On the tendency to expensive remedies compare Howell's Familiar Letters, 45.
" More operativ then Bezar. of more virtue then Potable Gold, or the Elixir of Amber."
In Moliere's Mete-in Mature L-ci, Act. III., Scene 2, Sganarelle speaks of a medical
preparation : " Oui, c'estun fromage prepare, oil il entrede l'or, du corail, et desperles,
et quantite des autres choses precieuses." An English confection described by Bassom-
pierre may have been the confectio alkermes spoken of above: " A pie magesterial of
ambergrease, pearl, musk." B assompierre' s Embassy, 3. The Bezoardic powder mages-
terial of the London Dispensatory contained sapphire, ruby, jacinth, emerald, pearl-, uni-
corn's horn. Oriental and American bezoar, musk, ambergrease, bone of stag's heart,
kermes and sixteen other ingredients. " I am afraid to look upon it," says Culpepper.
■" 'Tis a great cordial to revive the Body, but it will bring the purse into a consumption."
3 Gold is said by the alchemist to have its origin in the sun ; it is called " the under
sun" and the " earthly sun endowed by God with an incredible potency. For in it are
included all vegetable, animal and mineral virtues." Potable Gold is the "tincture of
the sun," and the enthusiastic Ciauber talks of " partaking of the fruit of the Sun-tree."
Compar Phaedro and Glauber passim. A large volume would not be sufficient to recount
all the irtues of the powerful remedy, in Glauber's opinion. Compare the account of it
in Evel n's Diary, I. 271
* Glauber, De Auro Polabi ' i, 3, and Georgius Phaedro, Vom Stein der Weisen, 1624,
202 E. Eggieston
remedy for human maladies where the recovery was not " contrary
to the unfathomable counsel of God." Gold was even administered
in its solid state ; Arabic doctors prescribed leaf gold and it held
place in several compounds. Fragments and leaves of gold were
seethed with meats and the broth used to cheer the heart and raise
the strength and vital spirits of invalids beyond all conception. 1
But the hermetic writers thought the use of leaf gold a coarse ap-
plication of a metal which they were fond of styling " the lower
sun." Preparations professing to be potable gold and tincture of
gold were in much request and frequently administered in the seven-
teenth century. 2 On the other hand, their efficacy was warmly
debated. The alchemists held that three drops, at the highest,
taken in wine or beer would cure the most serious illness. 3 Of its
nature it is more than enough for us to know that it was triplex,
being vegetable, animal and mineral ; it was one thing chosen out
of all others, of a livid color, metallic, limpid and fluid, hot and
1 Lemnius, De Miraculis Occult. Nat., 1604, pp. 309, 310.
2 The curious and scientific reader may follow if he can the process for making potable
gold, the " True tincture of the Sun," in the various works of Glauber or in De I ia Univer-
mli : he may learn to get both the potable gold and the philosopher's stone by " the dry
process " or by the " wet process." He may get directions for making the tincture in Glau-
ber's De Auri Tiiitiura sive Auro Potabili, a German work with the usual Latin title,
dated 1652. Or he may read the I'anaceae Hermeticae Universalis of Johann Gerhard, 1640,
and he will find the " most secret mode of compounding the Universal Medicine " in the
Arcanum Lullianum. Then there is a rare tractate, Vom Stein iter IVeisen, written
in the middle of the sixteenth century, by Phaedra von Rhodach. These and others are
before me, but after some wearying of the mind with esoteric phrases, in a compound of
old German and Latin I prefer to leave the question of the actual constitution of the most
potent universal remedy to special investigators. Fonssagrives in the Dictionnaire Ency-
clopidiqut des Sciences Medicates, under the word Or, says that a preparation of mercury and
chloride of gold constituted the so-called potable gold of the seventeenth century ; I do not
know on what authority. I am in some doubt whether, after all the complicated hugger-
mugger, the alchemists got any gold in their final decoctions. According to Phaedro it
was not so much gold they sought as the subtle spirit of gold that freed men and metals
from impurities. Glauber, in his De Auri Tinctura, 1652, p. 24, took pains to explain
how the true should be known from the false and sophisticated potable gold, some of
which was nothing but colored water. Angelus Sala, though of the Paracelsian school,
ridiculed the notion of drinkable gold and declared that fulminating gold (Knallgold) was
the only preparation of that metal that had ever been made. Sprengel, Gesehichte der
Arzneikunde, IV. 357. It has been conjectured that some of the so-called potable gold
offered for sale was merely a preparation of mercury. The two metals are allied in the
fancy of the time. In Ehralter Ritterkrieg, Gold calls Mercury " Mein Bruder Mer-
curio " and yet says that mercury was the female and gold the male. Salmon's English
Physician, p. 10, has two recipes for making tincture of gold, the one with, the other
without mercury. More than one writer intimates that there is as much gold left after
the essence is drawn oft". " Aurum decoctione non alteritur," says Lemnius. But the
mere looking at gold coins or at rings, especially if adorned with " stones and lovely
gems," recreated the eyes and heart, and a man might be brought to himself when in a
collapse by applying gold saffron to the region of the heart with the third finger of the
left hand. Lemnius, De Miraculis Occultis Naturae, 309, 390.
* Phaedro von Rhodach, 443.
Some Curious Colonial Remedies 203
moist, watery and swarthy, a living oil and a living tincture, a uni-
versal stone and a water of life of wonderful efficacy. 1 So spoke
the admiring alchemist.
John Winthrop the younger, of whom we have spoken, was a
man of an eager and curious mind, fond of peering into the occult.
He dabbled in alchemy as well as astrology and on his shelves were
many of the latest works on potable gold. A poet of his time says
of him :
"Were there a Balsam, which all wounds could cure,
'Twas in this Asculapian hand be sure."
He left a son Wait who inherited his father's fondness for prescrib-
ing, and who like his father was adept in panaceas and was believed
to have golden secrets and secrets more precious than gold " un-
known to Hippocrates and Helmont." 2 Doubtless many New
Englanders were dosed by the revered Winthrops 3 with the true
tincture of the sun, potable gold, made by marrying in some fashion
the "masculine gold" to the "feminine mercury," and possessing
all virtues, vegetable, animal and mineral, "destroying the Root
and Seminaries of all malignant and poisonous diseases."
Weapon -ointment, sympathetic powder, potable gold were much
-thought of, but the authorized pharmacopoeias ignored these Gothic
medicines and traced their origin to alchemists and Rosicrucians.
Yet the notion of a universal antidote was in regular medicine as
well. Primitive science, having no reins on the imagination, longs
for perfection, seeks the universal and dreams of great discoveries.
Back through a long line of medical writers we may trace the belief
in the virtues of theriac and mithradate to Galen and into the cen-
1 Geber, quoted in De Via Vniversali.
2 Green's Medicine in Massachusetts, quoting Cotton Mather.
3 The library of Winthrop the younger consisted of more than a thousand volumes.
The fraction of it now in the Society Library of New York is less than half. Among
these is Hercules Chymicus sive Aurum Potabile, 1641, and Traite de la Vraye, Unique,
Grand et Universalle MMecine des Anciens, dite des Receus, Or Potabile, 1633. There
was also Glauber's Latin treatise of 1658 on potable gold. These were new books.
The revival of interest in potable gold in the seventeenth century awakened opposition.
Burton in his Anatomy of Melancholy says : " Some take it upon them to cure all mala-
dies by one medicine severally applied, as that panacea, Aurum potabile, so much con-
troverted in these days." In 1403 an English statute had been passed making it a felony
to " use any craft of multiplication " to increase the quantity of gold and silver ; Statutes
at Large, II. 403. Robert Boyle in the seventeenth century, in spite of his having
written the Sceptical Chemist, thought he had discovered the forgotten secret of the fif-
teenth century, but he did not print his discovery. Sir Isaac Newton wrote to the Royal
Society in praise of Boyle' s reticence, fearing that the full disclosure of what the hermetics
knew was " not to be communicated without immense damage to the world." In 1689,
however, Boyle secured the repeal of the statute forbidding the making of gold. Thus
did the dark shadow of medieval credulity fall still upon the most enlightened minds.
Compare Chalmers' s Dictionary of Biography, VI. 348, 349.
204 E. Eggleston
turies before Galen. The accepted story of its origin is that Mith-
radates, king of Pontus, by a series of experiments on criminals,
had found out or thought he had found out what medicaments
would neutralize various poisons. These he put together for a uni-
versal antidote. 1 Andromachus, physician to Nero, changed the
constitution of the remedy somewhat by adding the flesh of the
viper, probably on the principle of curing like by like. The remedy
of Andromachus was the famous theriac which was so much lauded
by Galen and which imposed itself even on modern times. 2 It was
expelled from the British Pharmacopoeia only in the middle of the
eighteenth century by a bare majority of one vote in the college.
It contained more than sixty ingredients and was commonly known
in England as Venice treacle. 3 Not only all poisons but many
diseases were supposed to be conquerable by this universal remedy.
Numerous other preparations of viper's flesh were in use. Things
poisonous were thought to contain much virtue. What theriac was
used in the colonies was no doubt made abroad. In less com-
plicated preparations the American rattlesnake was made to take
the place held for thousands of years by its rival in virulence, the
European viper. 4 The flesh of the rattlesnake was fed to the in-
firm, perhaps in broths, as the viper's was given for ages, and as the
Scotch used the adder ; his gall mixed with chalk was made into
"snake balls" and given internally, his heart was dried and pow-
dered and drunk in wine or beer to cure the venom of the snake on
the ancient principle of curing by likes. 5 In Virginia the oil of a
snake was given for gout, while in frosty New England the fat was,
if we may believe Josselyn, " very sovraigne for frozen limbs . . .
and sprains." The American backwoodsman of to-day perhaps
unconsciously uses a substitute for the viper wine or theriacal wine
of other times when he soaks the flesh of a rattlesnake in spirits to
make "bitters" against rheumatism.
There was yet another universal antidote recognized in the reg-
ular medicine of the time. The bczoar or bezar stone was a
concretion taken from the intestines of wild goats and other animals.
That brought from the Orient was accounted most valuable. It
'Galen, De Thcriaca ad Pisonem, and De Antidotis Epitome, Adams's Paiilus
sEgineta, III. 52S, Maranta De Theriaca ct Mithridatio, 1576.
2 The multitudinousness of ancient compounds was perhaps a trait derived from
primitive medicine. The Iroquois had a sort of theriac, a cure for all bodily injuries,
made from the dry and pulverized skin of every known bird, beast and fish. KrminnieA.
Smith in Powell's Second Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 73-
3 Comp. Adams on P. .Egineta, III. 121, Judd's Iladley, 361, Josselyn's Two Voy-
■> Byrd's Westover Papers, 66.
5 Joannes Juvenis, De Medicamcn'is, 240, and Salmon's English Physician, 763.
Some Curious Colonial Remedies 205
was used first in the East as an amulet ; there were other remedies
of olden times that served their purpose just as well when worn
about the person as when taken medicinally. A " stone " found
in so unusual a place excited wonder, and there grew up a mythical
notion of its origin. This particular wild goat, in the opinion of the
sixteenth century, indulged itself on occasion in a diet of poisonous
snakes. To cool the burning produced in its stomach by this de-
bauch the creature plunged into the water. On coming out he
sought and ate of health-giving herbs, and as a result the bezoar
was concreted in his vitals. 1 The cost of the bezoar, the "queen
of poisons," was great; 2 "if you take too much your purse will
soon complain," says a medical writer in 1661. The concretions of
the "mountain goat" were the original bezoar, but any intestinal
formation of the kind came to be considered bezoar. In Java the
viscera of the porcupine were eagerly searched for such deposits and
one of these worthless things, called a pedro porco, was sold for the
price of pearls. 3 There were ruminants in Chili and Peru that
yielded bezoars, which ranked second to those of the East ; Mexico
contributed a lower grade still. 4 Finding these stones valuable the
shrewd Indians learned to counterfeit them, and as they were of all
1 Monardes, Eng. ed., p. 3, and Acosta, Lib. IV., chap. xiii.
2 Tanner's Art of Physic, 515.
3 " In that country (Java) but very seldome there grows a Stone in the Stomach of
a Porkapine, called Pedro Porco : of whose virtue there are large descriptions : and the
Hollanders are now so fond, that I have seen 400 dollars of | given for one no bigger than
a Pidgeon's Egg : There is sophistication as well in that as in the Bezoar, Musk, &c.
and every day new falsehood." Sir P. Vernatti in Sprat's Royal Society, 171. There was
exhibited in the University of Leyden " the home of a goate in whosse ventrikle the be-
sar stone is found," Marmaduke Rawdon, Camden Society, p. 105. Compare the ac-
counts of Monardes and Acosta and the discussion in Castrillo's Magia Natural, last
chapter. Castrillo calls the bezoar " Regna de los Venenos," and says that it cured
pestiferous fevers and other diseases caused by melancholy humors. Joannes Juvenis in
his essay De Medicamentis Bezoardicis, published in Antwerp in the latter part of the
sixteenth century, treats the bezoar very mystically. A disease of an occult and divine
origin — divinus et Secretin Morbus — like the plague, exacts a medicine of a heavenly and
concealed faculty, or, as he said, with a blind and hidden potency. The plague, he says,
is a mysterious disease of the heart caught by inhalation from poison dispersed in the air
by a malign conjunction of the planets. It requires a bezoardic remedy. Under this
head he includes alexipharmical mixtures and remedies, whose supposed virtues have no
rational basis, as well as amulets. He describes an amulet of gold, silver and arsenic
made into the shape of a heart and worn next to that organ by Pope Adrian, and he
recommends the wearing of six precious stones and some brilliant pearls in finger rings or
about the neck. They are to be frequently looked on, for in them resides " the hidden
bezoar " against all poisons and the plague. There is here the sense of alexipharmical
in the word bezoar. Compare the citations of Adams in Paulus sEginela, III. 274. Be-
guin's Elemens de Chymie, edited by Lucas de Roy, 1632, describes seven kinds of " be-
zoart," to wit, mineral, solar, lunar, martial, jovial, metallic and solar of Harthmannus.
None of these have anything to do with the bezoar stone. The word bezoar in the sense
of antidote appears to antedate the application of it to the stone.
« Castrillo, Chap. XXVI.
206 E. Eggleston
sizes, colors and forms, and there was no test of fineness, there were
others than natives who knew how to sophisticate, so that the
famous powder magisterial of bezoar often probably contained noth-
ing of the kind. The remedy was known in the colonies : Clayton,
the parson, who was in Virginia before 1690, tells of a skillful
woman physician there who gave pulverized " oriental bezoar stone,"
in the case of a man bitten by a rattlesnake, and followed it with a
decoction of dittany, the same, at least in name, as that ancient
remedy which Venus applied to the wound of her son, ^Eneas, 1
and to which the wild goats, in those knowing times, resorted when
the winged arrows of the hunters pierced their sides. We get a
notion of the persistence of medical tradition when we find adminis-
tered in Virginia an antidote 2 brought into Europe from the East
in the Middle Ages 3 and an orthodox simple derived from the re-
motest Greek antiquity ; and both of them probably without merit.
* sF.nrid, XII. 412.
2 As the eighteenth century advanced, bezoar seems to have lost ground gradually
in England. Sir Conrad Sprengell (an English writer not to be confounded with the
more famous German of a later generation, Kurt Sprengel), in his comment on Celsus in
1733 says: "As some have prescribed Bezoar Stone, Eapis de Goa, Pulv. Gasc. &c.
when Crab's eyes or oister shells would have done as well or better."
"Cf. Calendar of Hatfield House MSS., V. 3.